Be careful on sweeping climate change bill
Before leaving Sacramento, lawmakers may enact a bill that could determine the fate of California’s efforts to reduce poverty, build sustainable communities and slow climate change for the next 35 years.
Senate Bill 32 would require the state Air Resources Board to regulate a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. This is an important law to get right.
Climate change is a significant threat, and California has taken a lead on this global concern. SB 32 would significantly raise the bar. Before that commitment is made, we urge civic leaders and legislators to evaluate the following issues.
Is it intended that SB 32 trump all other laws and public goals? California is on track to exceed the AB 32 target of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, but this progress hasn’t come without social and economic costs. Californians pay about 40 percent more for electricity and fuel than the national average. While leadership in energy efficiency has largely offset this impact for coastal residents, residents in our warmer inland areas have been adversely affected.
Energy-intensive manufacturing has been steadily exiting the state. Environmental leadership has created some jobs but has cost others.
As passed by the Senate, SB 32 could trump local land-use decisions. Plans developed under SB 375 could become instantly obsolete. Regulations could make it infeasible to produce some goods, and could – without any analysis or even acknowledgment – undermine efforts to increase middle-income jobs, ease housing shortages and reduce poverty.
If that is not the intent, lawmakers must clarify how they expect regulators to reconcile SB 32 with other policy goals.
Also, what happens if technology does not develop fast enough to meet the mandate? The California Council of Science and Technology has determined that even a 60 percent reduction cannot be met by 2050 with existing technologies. While similar policies have driven technological innovations, SB 32 does not authorize – let alone require – the Air Resources Board to change the mandate so it is feasible.
Do policymakers want to meet the mandate at all costs? What if California meets the goal but other states and nations lag behind? California generates less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gases. Gov. Jerry Brown has said that our state’s leadership will be futile if others do not follow. We would simply be pushing economic activity to other states or nations with less rigorous standards.
So should reduction milestones here be linked with progress elsewhere?
These questions must be evaluated. Instead of passing a bill now, a more thoughtful and ultimately more successful approach would be to spend the next year resolving these issues. Some specifics:
▪ Proceed with Brown’s call for the Air Resources Board to develop a plan to reduce carbon emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
▪ Require the board to evaluate alternatives for how the 80 percent goal could be met, including calculating economic costs and social impacts, before a 2050 mandate is placed in law.
▪ Accelerate the use of California’s purchasing power, rather than its production power, to help drive change.
▪ Align other laws to reduce conflicts that will otherwise waste millions of public and private dollars, cost middle-income jobs and hurt low-income families.
This is not a plea for delay or for reducing the goal. It’s an appeal to engage scientists, policymakers, environmentalists, entrepreneurs and the public in one of the most important public decisions in a generation.